NEWARK, NJ -- Students at Sojourn High School at Essex County Juvenile Detention Center can now earn industry-recognized certifications to secure a job in the construction field upon release.

The SIM LOG Vocational Program is made of three machine networked simulator stations that replicate the functionality of a hydraulic excavator, bulldozer, and wheel loader to teach machine operation skills. Each simulation station is equipped with a steering wheel, gear shift, and/or foot pedals. 

Sojourn High School is the first in the state to have such a program. 

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“Construction and technology are two fields that are in high demand now and we are preparing these young people to be able to step into these roles,” said Essex County Juvenile Detention Center Director Reverend Dennis Hughes.

Students complete 30-40 hours on each training unit. Those who successfully pass the course will receive a certification of completion and will have the opportunity to test for industry-recognized certifications and credentials.

The enhanced SIM LOG Vocation Program builds upon the existing C-Tech program, which credentials students in telecommunications wire and cable handling. 

“A lot of people think that these students don’t have a lot to add to society and we’re here to prove them wrong,” said Dr. Laurie W. Newell, Superintendent of Essex Regional Educational Services, which operates four alternative schools in the county.

“Our students are brilliant, they’re learners and it's up to us to provide the resources that when they do go back into society, they are productive citizens,” said Newell. 

SIM LOG Vocational Program will position students to obtain industry-recognized certifications in three different fields of the construction industry and provide students a better opportunity for gainful employment in the future. 

 The construction program provides industry-standard training that includes simulation tasks, task progression, and evaluation. 

The equipment costs about $70,000 and was paid for by the high school. 

Sojourn High School was the first detention facility in the state to offer a full 6.5 hour school day for youth detainees. 

The curriculum is based in the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards and the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Individual Program Plan (IPP). The school considers the interests, specific skills and life goals of all students in the instructional design.

When a student completes the program with a skill set and certificate, they have a better chance of finding a job. But that isn’t enough yet, the school needs partners to help make provide opportunities said Rodney Jenkins, Sojourn High School Principal.

“Once we train our kids, I need someone to step up and give them a chance. I keep telling my kids that sometimes they may not be able to get hired by a company but there are subcontractors. If you can do the work, you can get a job,” said Jenkins.